October 2018

Unprecedented study finds nations failing to invest in education and health care at risk of slow economic growth

SEATTLE – Nations failing to invest in health and education are at risk of stagnating economies and lower per capita GDP, according to the first-ever scientific study ranking countries for their levels of human capital


Recently, I read the above noted report from the University of Washington. It is beautifully written and provides very solid information regarding the methodology and the resulting rankings. What I found fascinating about the study’s findings is that they state “…nations failing to invest in education and health care at risk of slow economic growth.”

I question why the report is understated in its findings. I propose that a country is more than ‘at risk’ when its public policy and public expenditures do not extend to the appropriate level of investment in quality education.

This is specifically pertinent today as the rapidity of change is exponential and students need preparation for a future that is so unpredictable. How does a country build its future prosperity if not through investment in quality education?

I recall being in the US a few years after they began wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were several items on the news about decreasing funding to and investment in education and laying off teachers from both primary high schools. At the time, I knew a society that puts its focus and citizens’ tax dollars on wars, while at the same time, reducing investment in quality education, is on a one-way downward spiral. And it has only become worse since then – as the results of the study demonstrate.

As I reflect on the study’s findings and observe the current climate in the US that is anti-education and anti-science, we observe a country in decline:

Ranking of countries’ human capital yield unexpected results over 26-year period. US drops from 6th to 27th, China jumps from 69th to 44th, Turkey from 102nd to 43rd, South Korea from 18th to 6th, and Singapore from 43rd to 13th.

“Our findings show the association – between investments in education and health and improved human capital and GDP – that policymakers ignore at their own peril,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME)* at the University of Washington. “As the world economy grows increasingly dependent on digital technology, from agriculture to manufacturing to the service industry, human capital grows increasingly important for stimulating local and national economies.”

The World Bank President, Dr. Jim Yong Kim, defines human capital as “the sum total of a population’s health, skills, knowledge, experience, and habits.”

*The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.